Peyton Hendershot carried three Cincinnati defenders on his back as he dived for the pylon.
Michael Penix Jr. didn’t need to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage on a play-action rollout, but it led to a 16-yard touchdown. It gave Indiana a 7-0 lead over the Bearcats. A sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium erupted. It solidified Hendershot as the playmaking safety blanket that can solve Penix’s early struggles.
Peyton Hendershot helps Indiana get to the painted grass first against #8 Cincinnati ?pic.twitter.com/WWcXXkBPig
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
And if it didn’t look like the Hendershot of 2020, that’s because it’s not. While the 2020 season came with a list of program highs for Indiana, the same wasn’t true for Hendershot.
Hendershot finished his 2019 campaign with 622 receiving yards, good for 12 yards per catch. But he was arrested in February of 2020 after an altercation with his ex-girlfriend led to a felony residential entry charge, as well as misdemeanor charges of domestic battery, criminal mischief and criminal conversion.
Hendershot eventually pleaded guilty to criminal trespass, a Class A misdemeanor, and was sentenced to one year probation. As a result of the plea deal, the Monroe County Court dismissed the three other charges.
Indiana suspended Hendershot indefinitely, but reinstated the tight end in July of 2020 after he completed the team-sanctioned discipline, the student conduct process and the legal process. Hendershot also participated in a batterers treatment program and was required to receive a mental health evaluation.
He returned to the team for his junior season in 2020 that concluded with just 151 receiving yards, his yards per catch split in half.
“Feeling like I let the team down,” Hendershot said. “I just feel like I didn’t play to the standard I should have last year.”
Hendershot made a commitment to change himself, both on and off the field. He admits that he didn’t feel invested in the team during the 2020 season, which made it hard for Hendershot to give it his all on Saturdays.
But in the offseason leading up to his fourth year in Bloomington, Hendershot made a point to build relationships with the teammates he now calls brothers. He wanted to let everyone know that what happened last year wouldn’t happen again.
It was as simple as hanging out with teammates more often and getting to know them on a personal level, but it led to Hendershot being named a team captain for the 2021 season.
“I cried when they told me that,” Hendershot said. “Growing up, you never thought that you would be a captain for a Big Ten football team, so I’m very honored and blessed. I’ll do anything I can for this team.”
When the 2020 season ended, Hendershot told himself that he was going to take advantage of every opportunity to improve. He transformed his body and his work ethic during the offseason alongside strength coach Aaron Wellman.
Hendershot worked on getting faster and becoming a better blocker. Now, Hendershot said he is the most explosive he has ever felt. According to Tom Allen, Indiana’s strength staff said they have never seen a player have a better eight-month period than Hendershot.
"I've had probably the best offseason I've ever had."
Peyton Hendershot has added more strength and speed to his game this offseason and is ready for a big year. #iufb pic.twitter.com/GteuB94Rk1
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) August 27, 2021
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Hendershot said he is more dangerous after the catch, which makes things easier for Penix. Against Cincinnati, Hendershot hauled in six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s just a good feeling when you think you can make moves on guys and make them miss,” Hendershot said.
While Penix is off to a rough start in 2021 — already throwing six interceptions compared to eight in all of 2020 — Hendershot’s development as a playmaking tight end could be the solution to Penix’s improvement.
Hendershot naturally lines up across defenders tasked with shutting down Indiana’s run game, which could lead to opportunities for play action. Allen recognizes Hendershot as an asset with the ball in his hands and said he wants the tight end position to be a huge part of Indiana’s offense.
“Love that room,” Allen said. “They're guys we can count on. We trust them.”
Allen and the Hoosiers gave Hendershot a second chance, and through three weeks, Hendershot has lived up to the commitment he made in the offseason. As a leader and team captain, Hendershot is making sure his prior mistakes are in his past.
“I wasn’t happy with how I played last year,” Hendershot. “I just did not want to have that feeling in my gut at the end of this season.”